In early October, the Jets claimed running back Ty Johnson off of waivers from the Lions. They expected Johnson’s speed to work well on special teams, and needed more RB depth due to a Kalen Ballage signing that did not go well. At that point, he was listed at RB4. Many didn’t know his name.
On October 18, the Jets were playing the Miami Dolphins. Sam Darnold was out (shoulder injury) and Joe Flacco’s Jets were stagnant. The game was over by halftime. With 3:49 left in the third quarter, down 24-nothing, Johnson checked in. He took the ball eight yards on his first carry with the team.
His second? George Fant threw a block. Alex Lewis sealed it. Johnson found the hole and turned on the Jets. He was tackled after 34 yards, the longest play of the day for the Jets.
It was meaningless. It was a garbage-time run. But it looked like a glimmer of light, a silver lining.
Johnson was promoted to kickoff returner the next week. He was then considered RB3.
Then, La’Mical Perine hurt his ankle. LeVeon Bell was cut. Frank Gore’s lackluster production continued. Johnson began to see an increased role in the offense, albeit one or two carries a game. Heading into the Raiders game on December 6, Johnson had 8 carries for 60 yards – an average of 7.5 yards per attempt.
On December 6, the name Ty Johnson became a quasi-household one. In the Tri-State area. And maybe more of a “Huh, that guy seems good” type of vibe.
Frank Gore, the team’s starting running back, took a helmet to the head on his first carry. He was out the rest of the game with a concussion. The Jets had Ty Johnson and Josh Adams to run against a decent Raiders front.
Johnson got the ball on the ground 22 times. He rushed for a career-high 104 yards (4.73 YPC) and a touchdown. He was the first (and only) 100-yard rusher for the team under Adam Gase. It was the first 100-yard game by a player since Isaiah Crowell set the franchise record in October 2018, in which he stomped on Denver for 219 rushing yards.
Over the last four weeks, Johnson bolstered his stats with 24 more carries for 90 more yards. He finished the year with 54 carries, rushing for 254 yards (4.7 YPC), and just the one touchdown. He outperformed all Jets running backs but Frank Gore; Gore had 133 more rushing attempts than Johnson.
Of course, some Jets fans want to have Johnson take the bulk of the reps. As did I. But upon closer analysis by my friend and film junkie Adel Hashimov, it appears Johnson is a tad overrated by Jets fans. While he had done well, it was vastly over-celebrated by fans who were looking for solace in something to celebrate.
While Johnson is an elusive back that fights for the extra yard, Hashimov believes that he cuts inside too early on most plays.
“Johnson has [a] poor understanding of gaps,” Hashimov said. “He’ll refuse to bounce the ball outside of the tackles, and he always wants to try to run downhill.”
Hashimov listed positives as we talked, showing me clips of Johnson’s acceleration and his ability to track the ball.
Johnson enjoys getting hit and isn’t afraid to lower his shoulder and meet a linebacker head-on. He’s a solid blocker and has good hands out of the backfield. He’s a quick study and has nothing but room to grow.
But is he starter-caliber?
“Yes, he is, but he’s not an every-down back,” Hashimov said. “I have a strong belief you can consistently move the chains with Ty Johnson as your number 1 back in a running back committee. You can’t give him three hundred carries a season, but he is more than capable to be a contributor in a committee.”
The Jets will likely draft a running back in the 2021 NFL draft or sign a running back in free agency. But Ty Johnson should (and likely will) be a part of the Jets’ future.